Archive for Thursday, September 16, 2004

From the Editor’s Desk

Littering used to provide fun and profit

September 16, 2004

Earlier this week as I pulled onto the Kansas Highway 10 access ramp from Lexington Avenue, I spotted a discarded empty liquor bottle laying in the median. I don't know if it was meant to advertise the folly of its presumably intoxicated consumer or merely an act of thoughtless littering.
Maybe it was the weather, but the bottle took me back.
While growing up, I lived in a small community on U.S. Highway 77. At that time, before it was relocated four miles to the east to avoid being flooded by a reservoir that never came to be, the highway was as narrow as 83rd Street. North of the small town of my boyhood, it twisted through a river valley that marks the western extent of the Flint Hills. To the south, it runs straight and true to the next town down the road.
It was on this southern stretch that my friends and I used to go on pop bottle hunts on mild fall or spring days. The bottles we found were redeemable for 5 cents a bottle, good enough in bulk to buy equipment for our self-organized baseball club.
A trip of two or three miles twice a year would fill up sacks with bottles. You might think this a tedious exercise, but it had its diversions.
First, never underestimate the creative fun and games boys can create with glass containers. I remember I liked to break them against rocks as I had seen the era's TV cowboys do in bar fights. Somehow, I never got a scratch from this foolishness.
And of course, our trek often came to a standstill as we took turns pitching non-precious bottles at utility poles, bridge embankments and other inviting targets. Many of the poles were plastered with the added targets of letter-sized campaign posters, now replaced with familiar ground-staked signs.
Taking an occasional hit from a well-thrown bottle was none other than John Anderson.
A less destructive diversion was on the labels of the redeemable pop bottles. Most would list the city where it was first filled. When we went to our boyhood hangout to fish a pop from the cool waters of the cooler, it was a game to get the most distant and exotic location. One that said Salina was left for thee adults.
Pop bottles were not the only objects we turned up with the names of far off cities. There were always a fair number of discarded motel keys, hanging from large trapezoid holders with room numbers and the foresighted requests that anyone finding the key please mail it to the motel. It felt like such an obligation that we would collect with the never-realized intent of doing just that. Perhaps if the motel owners had offered a 5-cent reward, we would have followed through on the urge.
Times have changed. We are now encouraged to recycle. But except for the obsessive plastic-gloved few who pick up aluminum cans from garbage, the profit motive has been removed. Ditch picking is now left to service organizations and not-so-young boys looking to make some change.

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